The Pros and Cons of Online Massage Therapy School

woman studying online for class

Online learning has expanded rapidly in American higher education over the last two decades, and online courses have become available at a growing number of massage therapy schools as well.

But how does online learning work for massage therapy, exactly? And given the hands-on nature of the job, is it even a good idea? These questions and others are important to consider as you research your education options and weigh the pros and cons of online massage therapy school, if that’s a path you’re considering.


Are There Any Massage Therapy Programs Offered 100% Online?

Currently, there are no schools that exclusively offer online learning for entry-level massage therapy programs, according to findings in the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) 2019 Massage Profession Research Report.

There are no schools that exclusively offer online learning for entry-level massage therapy programs.

Some massage therapy programs are advertised as 100% online, but in reality they also include a hands-on component. These programs offer the “academic” portion of the massage therapy course online, and then generally require students to complete several weeks of hands-on training under the supervision of massage therapy instructors to allow students to gain practical experience.

“The hands-on component of massage therapy education is huge,” explains Lisa McNeil, MEd, CFSS-M, a Wisconsin-based licensed massage therapist who works with professional athletes for the United States Olympic Committee. “The only way you can learn quality palpation is by actually doing it.”

What Classes Are Available and Best to Take Online?

A relatively small percentage of massage schools offer some of their classes online. According to a survey published by the AMTA, 19% of schools offer online courses for their entry level programs, up from 17% in 2017. And at that, the few online classes offered mainly focus on basics such as anatomical terms and diet and nutrition information rather than massage techniques.

A growing percentage of massage therapy schools are, however, offering continuing education classes online, which build on the skills of therapists who have mastered the basics of massage techniques. 

What Are Some Pros and Cons of Online Classes?

Possible Pros

In general, online courses are popular because of their convenience. It may be easier to fit online classes into your already hectic life—you don’t have to commute to class, and some online courses are even self-paced, which means you can complete them on your own time, whenever works for you.

For students who don’t live near institutions of higher education, online courses may be the only way they can achieve their educational goals without quitting their jobs and uprooting their lives to move closer to school. That reason alone can give students a powerful incentive to attend online programs.

Potential Cons

However, when it comes to massage therapy education, there are some potential drawbacks to online learning, especially for entry-level programs. Even if you are able to complete several weeks of hands-on learning in a clinic, that may still be too little training to prepare you for a successful career.

Massage therapy is regulated in most states, and you should choose a massage school that allows you to meet the education requirements needed to become licensed in your state (usually between 500 and 1,000 hours of training).

It’s also important to think about whether you would actually enjoy online classes. Not all students flourish in an online setting. Taking a class from the comfort of your own couch sounds great, but in practice, you might have trouble staying focused and motivated at the end of a long day. Having success with an online program requires a significant amount of attention to detail and being self-motivated. Sometimes it helps to have the accountability and support that comes with a traditional classroom experience.

Online Continuing Education Classes

The story may be slightly different for massage therapy continuing education classes. If you are just taking a three-hour class on a topic that does not require hands-on learning, like insurance reimbursement or social media marketing for massage therapy, online classes can be a great option.

Taking continuing education courses about massage therapy could also help you stay up to date on the latest techniques and research, even if the courses are just online. But don’t get into the habit of skipping out on in-person learning opportunities altogether.

If you’re taking a three-hour class that does not require hands-on learning, online classes can be a great option.

“It’s so easy to do continuing education courses online, but you should still plan to set aside the money and the time to attend a class with a room full of other people who are as passionate as you are,” McNeil recommends. “Going to a workshop or class is really important. It gets you out of your bubble and opens you up to things you may not know are out there. You’ll overhear interesting conversations and get new ideas that can point you in a whole new direction.”

In McNeil ‘s experience, in-person classes, workshops, and seminars are also a great way to network. Because massage therapists usually rely on referrals to build a client base, it’s a good idea to get to know other massage therapists, instructors, and medical professionals who will remember your name and can send you job leads or clients in the future.

What Questions Should I Ask About Online Courses?

If you are considering an online course or program, it’s important to realize that not all online education is created equal. Your experience could vary widely depending on how the school sets up their classes.

Tuition is generally about the same as traditional classroom education, but interaction with your instructors and classmates, and delivery of your education, will be quite different. Before you sign up for a program, find out a few key pieces of information:

  • How will you communicate with instructors and other students in the class?
    Typically programs have an online portal where syllabus and classroom materials and test dates are posted.
  • Is the program self-paced, or are there live classes or presentations you need to attend?
  • Is there a hands-on component to the program?
    If the entry-level massage therapy program you’re looking at doesn’t have hands-on training as part of the program, that should be a red flag. You’ll also want to ask who is supervising your training. For continuing education programs in business management, however, the hands-on aspect is less important.
  • Can you access the program on your laptop, cellphone, or tablet?
  • What will you learn?
  • Does the curriculum match your long-term goals and areas of interest or specialization?
  • What is the school’s reputation among massage therapy professionals?
  • Are the instructors also working part time as a massage therapist and keeping up with current methods?
  • Is the school accredited? This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but important to research.
  • Are career placement services available?
    Another benefit brick-and-mortar massage therapy schools often provide is help with job placement once you’ve graduated. If you attend an online school based in another state, ask if the program will be able to connect you with employers in your local area?

Take the time to understand how the course works in practice and what outcomes you can realistically expect to achieve, so you can better set yourself up for long-term success.

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